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CD Feature/ Valerie Joyce: "The Look of Love"

img  Tobias

When, as the saying goes, there is more than meets the eye, why shouldn’t the same apply to the ear? The sweet smile and the romantic design of Valerie Joyce’s latest album, as well as the outwardly smooth arrangements contained on the CD suggest yet another stab at the commercially viable intersection between Pop and Jazz. And yet, this lady certainly knows how to spice up a tune.

Joyce, after all, has been a recognisable voice on the American Vocal-Jazz scene for over a decade. She has never rested on the laurels bestowed on her bronzen timbre and silky huskiness, but rather dared to contrast them with World Music, tablas and flutes. She founded her own label and played the piano in a bigband for years before making her breakthrough and signing with Chesky. Listen to her spaced-out version of “Fever” on her previous album “New York Blue” to find out why Valerie Joyce has deserved her share of tenderness on “The Look of Love – The Music of Burt Bacharach”.

Besides, judging Bacharach’s music by the cover is an obvious, but dangerous mistake, which risks missing the point completely. Of course, songs like “I say a little prayer for you” and “Arthur’s Theme” are hummable tunes in perfection. But underneath their catchy shell hide eccentric chord modulations and lyrics full of bitterness, dark allusions, sadness and unfulfillable longing. “Bacharach has made it his trademark to populate his pieces with subtle twists and turns that burnish his inimitable footprints”, Ted Panken writes in the linernotes, explaining why Valerie Joyce has decided to make changes, but to essentially remain faithful to the original. 

This turns “The Look of Love” into a classic interpretational album, instead of just a collection of covers. Joyce does not invest her time in shocking redesigns or bizarre turnarounds. She much more prefers to take the song as a given and then to build a relationship with it, which will transform both parties in the process.

Interestingly enough, this technique of initially accepting certain aspects as fixed and of restricting one’s own contribution to a clearly defined set of expressional tools has resulted in a paradox: The less the songs are inhabited by a wayward vision, the more personal they become. And the less Joyce stamps her ego on the tracks, the more she finds herself.

It is this paradox which renders each soft stroke of the cymbal, each bass dot and each carefully measured piano solo exciting. “The Look of Love” is an unexerted effort, rightly because it has been thought through with painstaking precision. If it is a romantic album, then it is so in a candlelight dinner-kind of way, but because it likes to play with fire. You’ll need some time to find that out, though. After all, this record is quite a bit more than meets the ear.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Valerie Joyce
Homepage: Chesky Records

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